Smyrna captures 3rd straight D-I football state title, tops Middletown 30-27

Smyrna football coach Mike Judy holds the Division 1 trophy as they celebrate with their win against Middletown 30 – 27 in Newark. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

NEWARK — One last time in a Smyrna High uniform, Will Knight broke into the clear.

He had the opposing defense behind him and nothing but a sea of green turf out in front.

For Eagles nose tackle Mike Carrow, who was watching from the sidelines, it was a beautiful sight to see.

“I just dropped to my knees,” said the senior. “I stayed on my knees and thanked the Lord. It was awesome.”

Smyrna fans celebrate the Bulldogs win against Middletown 30 – 27 in Newark. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Smyrna’s fans no doubt felt the same burst of both joy and relief when Knight broke off a 79-yard touchdown run with 2:38 remaining to put the exclamation point on the No. 2 Eagles’ 30-27 victory over top-seeded Middletown on another memorable Division I football state championship Saturday afternoon at Delaware Stadium.

Just moments earlier, Smyrna’s third-straight Division I state crown was anything but locked up.

The Cavaliers (11-1) trailed only 22-20 and had the ball inside the Eagles’ 25. That’s when Smyrna’s defense, with linebacker Darryl Williams making a huge first hit, stopped Middletown quarterback Drew Fry just short of a first down on a fourth-and-three at the 21.

On the very next play, Knight broke free from Smyrna’s packed-in earthquake formation for his 79-yard scoring run. The senior running back then added the two-point conversion to give the Eagles (10-2) a 30-20 advantage.

The Smyrna football team celebrate with their Division 1 trophy after beating Middletown 30 – 27 in Newark. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

The TD capped off a huge final high school game for Knight, who ran for 231 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. He also scored three two-point conversions and threw a 41-yard scoring pass to Stephen Whaley.

On a day when both teams scored four touchdowns, it was those two-point conversions that made the difference in Smyrna becoming just the fourth team in Delaware history — and only the second in Division I — to capture three football state crowns in a row.

And the Eagles needed almost all those points when Middletown put together one last drive.

Fry (23-of-34, 218 yards) threw his third TD pass of the day, a nice 18-yard fade to Kenneth Edelin to pull the Cavs within 30-27 with 1:12 still on the clock.

Emon Roberts of Smyrna gets a block and cuts around the right end for a gain in the Division I championship game against Middletown. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

But the Eagles’ Keshaun Tolbert charged the ensuing onsides kick and recovered it to end Middletown’s last comeback hopes. A few moments later, Smyrna’s red-clad fans roared as the final seconds ticked away. They began chanting ‘Three-peat, three-peat …’

“This is special,” said Knight, who played a big role in all three state championships. “This is a special team that was able to make history. To be able to come back as alumni and say that we were a part of this is a blessing.”

“They’re all special but this is my last game that I can ever play in my life for Smyrna,” said senior defensive end Hunter Moyer. “The fact that we went out on top, is amazing. I’m lost for words.”

“I’m ecstatic,” said fourth-year head coach Mike Judy, the former Dover High and Wesley College standout. “I’m trying not to cry. I feel so good for these guys. … When these guys can pull it together and write that final chapter the way it’s supposed to be written for them. …”

The fact that it took everything Smyrna had to pull out the victory only made it more special for Judy.

“You know what? That’s the way it’s supposed to be when you get to the final game,” he said. “We didn’t expect Middletown to bring anything less than their ‘A’ game and they did.”

Indeed, in a season in which the Eagles started 0-2 — including a 35-28 season-opening loss to Middletown — maybe it was fitting that they had to rally again on Saturday.

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Smyrna’s QB Isaiah Wilson rushes against Middletown in the second quarter during the Division 1 football finals in Newark. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

After trailing 8-7 at halftime, the Cavs jumped ahead 20-8 on a pair of third-quarter TDs. Fry fired a 35-yard scoring pass down the middle to Esaias Guthrie before Cavs’ defensive lineman Jonathan Smith snared a fumble out of the air and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown with 4:23 left in the third quarter.

“Drew Fry looked awesome today,” said Judy. “He’s an unbelievable quarterback.”

But, in his own way, Knight has proven to be a pretty good passer in his own right.

He proved it again in the third quarter on Saturday. Taking a snap out of a wildcat formation, he lobbed a pass over the top to Whaley, who had gotten behind the defense for the 41-yard TD pass that pulled the Eagles quickly back within 20-14.

But Smyrna’s go-ahead scoring drive was far different.

After the Eagles’ defense forced a punt, Tolbert’s 27-yard return set up Smyrna at its own 47. Smyrna then ground out the 53 yards on 12 running plays — including 11 by Knight.

On a fourth-and-four at the Middletown 34, Knight bounced a carry outside and ran to the sticks for a tough six-yard gain that kept the drive going.
Five plays later, Knight took the ball nine yards up the middle for a TD that tied the game at 20-20. The senior followed by running for the two-point conversion that gave the Eagles a 22-20 lead with 7:35 remaining.

The fact that Knight played most of the season with an injured shoulder and then a bad ankle only added to the legend that will surely follow him in Smyrna.

“If there was a Mount Rushmore of football in Delaware, there would be no argument that he deserves to be on there,” said Judy. “He’s that special. And he’s just such a good kid, it’s unbelievable.

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A Smyrna spectator holds up the defense sign in the second half during the Division 1 football finals in Newark. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“If something’s on the line, he’s the first guy you turn to. You don’t outcoach yourself in that situation. On the big play to Whaley when he threw the ball, who better than the guy that you trust with your life?”

Of course, Smyrna’s defense played a big part in the state title, too. The Eagles forced Middletown to punt five times in the contest.

And no play was bigger than Williams’ fourth-down stop on Fry. The sophomore linebacker hit the QB low on the run, turning him around before other defenders finished off the stop.

“I saw Drew coming out of the pocket,” said Williams. “Coach had been teaching me to take out the legs all week. I knew I had to step up. As soon as I saw him, there wasn’t any hesitation. I came straight for him.”

However, they did it, it was Smyrna’s players happily celebrating and posing for team photos with the state championship trophy for a third straight year on Saturday.

The fact that most of them had done this all before didn’t make the moment any less thrilling.

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Middletown’s Esaias Guthrie makes a diving catch for a touchdown against Smyrna’s Akil Garrett Jr in the second half during the Division 1 football finals in Newark. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“Honestly, they all feel the same,” said Carrow. “We came into this one just like we’d never been here before. Nerves, we were anxious. It almost bit us, but we came out with a win.

“Three times in a row, it’s awesome. Last year, everything just went the way we wanted it to go. This year we had to work for it.”

“I’m just really, really proud for the community and for these kids,” said Judy. “The thing that this senior class is going to be able to do, they’re not going to be able to just tell their kids that they played in three championships.

“They’re going to be able to tell their kids they won three championships. Not many people do that.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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